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Most locals will tell you that to see the Big Island the right way, you need to pick a side (Kona, Kohala, Waimea, Hilo) and stay there in order to explore all its nooks and crannies. This is what I did on my latest trip there, and I started on the Kona side – the west side that is desert-like in its dryness. Heading north on Route 19, our first stop was Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historical Site, where a walk toward the ocean will take you through the ruins of an ancient village. The bonus is the small, protected beach where we encountered a local who told us snorkeling was excellent there. We were tempted but moved on to Kawailhae Harbor instead, another known snorkeling spot, and spent a few hours there in the water. It was nice, had a rustic shower to clean up afterwards, good parking and clear water, but we regretted not going to look at the heiau (place of worship).
Snorkeling in Kona and enjoying its beautiful sights.
Heading up Route 270 towards the north point, the landscape was beautiful and ever-changing. Now you are in beautiful rolling hills, dotted with the most interesting cinder cone remnants of ancient vulcan activity. This area is a favorite because of its otherworldly vistas. Our destination was the adorable old sugarcane town of Hawi, in the North Kohala area, and lunch! This town is truly darling and perfect for eating, strolling or art shopping. We were headed to the famous Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery, well known in travel guides, but it was closed that week. Instead we went next door to the Lighthouse Deli and had the best rueben sandwich of my life!
Heading on to the “end of the road,” literally, on 270 East, we followed the stunningly rugged coastline until it took a sharp turn and suddenly stopped. But if the road hadn’t stopped you, I think the view would have anyway. It made my jaw drop. The Pololu Valley was right in front of us, reaching far back into the land, with tall, green ridges on either side, steep cliffs coming up from the oceanfront and a black sand beach at the bottom. As timing would have it in Hawaii, we got there just as a huge rainbow appeared over the valley. There is a trail that leads down to the beach that seemed safe, but we did not hike it. This is a must-do for island visitors.
Reaching the end of the road in northern Big Island.
Traveling back on Route 250 (very pretty drive) was so enjoyable. That area of lower Waimea is made of rolling green hills, beautiful farms, interesting landscapes and trees. And don’t forget the small, private coffee plantations that dot the area. Please don’t leave the Big Island without some of its famous coffee! I found a small grocer that carried a variety of local coffee and purchased five different brands to try for a reasonable price.
The many faces of the Big Island.
This day alone put the Big Island at the top of my list of favorite islands. It’s very tempting to stay put at some of the large and beautiful resorts offered there, but my advice – get in the car and get moving!